Before joining Facebook as a Solutions Engineer I had many questions about what the role implied and if it was a good fit for me. After almost one year into the role I wanted to share more about what we do and inspire you.
I had been working as a software engineer for 10+ years, mainly building web applications. I was starting to feel that I didn’t enjoy dedicating 100% of my time to code, and wanted to understand why I was building what I was building.
What kind of metrics was I trying to move? How did I validate that the project was successful? How did I iterate on it once the initial version was shipped? And, especially, how could I propose and drive projects that I thought could be valuable to the company?
I wanted to apply technology to solve business problems, and move away from seeing technology as a goal itself.
I had never heard of the “Solutions Engineer” role, but when people at Facebook described it to me it was clear what gaps it was trying to solve.
Having worked previously building public APIs I felt that disconnection between consumers (partners, small and large developers) and internal teams. Advocating for a technology can get you somewhere, but if you are not able to address consumer’s feedback, identify opportunities and test them, then you won’t get far.
Solutions Engineer partner with companies that advertise on Facebook (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Whatsapp) and help them make sound decisions on their technical integration. This goes all the way from how they setup basic events on their website to know what actions users are performing during a purchase flow, to fully automate campaigns with dynamic creatives, audiences and bidding.
Best of all is that Solutions Engineers are Software Engineers. This might seem obvious from the role title, but it holds true on a daily basis. We identify business opportunities that can’t be addressed with our current tools, create proposals, validate them by building them ourselves, and scale. We are the ones closest to the advertiser and the best to help product teams making their projects succeed with real customers.
We spend roughly half of our time building features and products in collaboration with other teams from Facebook, solving problems we have identified after working with advertisers.
Most of my colleagues have created their own companies or have worked as CTOs. And in practice, one would say we act sometimes as mini-CTOs inside the teams working with advertisers. We care about the advertiser’s challenges (eg increase brand awareness, sell more products, increase gross margin, reduce churn of users) and help out using our tools.
We are not told what to do and it is expected that we pull help from product teams, design, or marketing to propose and drive projects. And ultimately, prove that it drove some measurable impact to both the advertiser and Facebook. All this while getting access to the data and tools you need to do your job keeping process at a minimum. I must say I’m greatly surprised how smooth this works at Facebook, taking into account its humongous size.
This level of freedom and trust can be challenging at first. If you are used to being told what to do, then this is not an environment you will thrive at first. This can be challenging but in the long term is highly rewarding. There is the expectation that you come up with ideas, so rather than people telling you to keep yourself within your role’s boundaries, you will see colleagues supporting you all the way.
The role is very flexible and every Solutions Engineer works differently. Some are working with advertisers within a certain vertical (ecomm, retail, travel, fintech, games…), others within a certain region. For instance, I support advertisers in the Nordics across all verticals.
Each company has their own unique challenges, and the goal is to identify how our solutions are falling short and how we can improve it, without shortcuts. Evey new project adds complexity: more code to maintain, more products to support users with, a bigger surface prone to bugs. That’s why we align with other Solutions Engineers working to identify similar problems with the advertisers they work with, and help build a case for a project that doesn’t solve a specific limitation for a company, but can scale. Ultimately the tools that a large company can use to do marketing on Facebook are the same ones you and I can use.
If this sounds interesting, please reach out on Twitter or email. We have open positions for the role, including one based in Stockholm where you would work side by side with me. I’m also genuinely interested in talking with colleagues working at companies that could benefit from having a similar role, so reach out if you want to have a chat.
Facebook Careers interviewed a few of my colleagues in February 2019 in this video. I have transcribed the video, which includes questions from people that were watching it live, that will help you to know more:
Jordan Rogers-Smith: Hi everyone and welcome to our Facebook Live. My name is Jordan and I’m a solutions engineer here at Facebook London. Today I’m joined by members of our client engineering team and together we want to look at what it’s like to work on such a team within Facebook.
We’ll touch upon some of the growth areas within our teams, the challenges we regularly face, as well as the opportunities that make working in this team such a unique experience.
Let’s dive in and do some intros with the rest of the team. Firstly, Flora, tell us a little about yourself and how you are doing at Facebook.
Flora Adorjan: Thanks Jordan. Hi guys, my name is Flora. I’m also a Solutions Engineer in the same team as Jordan. I am based in London but I focus on the area which is called DACH (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria). I traveled there sometimes and I mainly cover the ecomm and retail verticals there, and I’ve been with Facebook for two and a half years.
Yannick Mahé: My name is Yannick. I am a Solutions Engineering Manager. I’m based in Paris. I work for the whole of southern Europe so at Facebook that means France, Italy, Spain and Israel. I work on the automotive verticals and have members of my team work on other verticals like luxury, retail, travel, and e-commerce.
Yash Sahay: Hi, I’m Yash. I’m a partner engineer manager on the platform partnerships team. I lead the partner engineering team for EMEA and we focus on platform products like Messenger, AR Camera, Portal yeah camera portal and Facebook products for Europe and East Africa.
Jordan: Nice! And I guess to close out, my name’s Jordan I too work here in London and have been on the team for about five years and I currently focus on our small to medium businesses so I really think about how we can help grow the smallest advertises on our platform.
Jordan: So let’s jump in and look at some of the questions that have been submitted before the event took off. First, both partners and solutions engineering appear to be very unique roles in the industry. Can you describe what partner engineers and solutions engineers at Facebook do?
Yash: Partner engineering is a pretty unique role in the industry. I think everybody has their interpretation of what that is at different companies. At Facebook the role requires you to either focus on specific business verticals, and therefore work with partners in those business verticals, and bring them on board to our family of Facebook products that are designed or catering to those verticals. Or partner engineers could be working on different developer products which are spanning across a set of business verticals and roles.
Jordan: Flora, how would you describe Solutions Engineering at Facebook?
Flora That’s kind of a hard question. Obviously I’ve explained it so many times to some of my friends. It’s a very unique mixture of client facing and engineering. We spent about half of our time actually coding on the Facebook stack and the other half working directly with the advertisers. That means that we are not only trying to help our most important advertisers by partnering with them, but we’re also trying to learn from them to see what would be most impactful to work on. We write a lot of prototypes, for example, for these kind of ideas that we got from working with these clients.
Jordan: And to slightly change the question to you, Yannick, what is it that attracted you to the role in solutions engineering.
Yannick: I have a background of being a very tech oriented guy at different companies and start ups and being at a more pure technical level, even if in management. This is one role where you get the opportunity to be really connected to the business. You talk with sales people, sales leaders, clients… You talk with the client’s CEO to explain to them how Facebook technology can help them unlock new potential and that’s a very unique proposition for this role.
Jordan: Nice! And Yash, anything you want to add about why you wanted to join Facebook?
Yash: I’ve been a career entrepreneur my entire life before Facebook and this is one of those roles which allows me to still be an entrepreneur, but inside of Facebook. I get to work with cross-functional teams inside Facebook, product engineering managers, but at the same time with the level of empathy for businesses and help them succeed on our platform and so work closely with partners at that level.
Jordan: Excellent! Our first live question of the day: how does the typical day of an engineer at Facebook look like?
Flora I think there is no such thing as typical day, at least for a solutions engineer everyday is different. There are maybe days when I’m more focused on engineering, when I’m trying to focus on the project I’m working on, and maybe I even block out time to make sure that it happens. And there are other days when I may be visiting an advertiser at their office or meeting them in our office and the whole day’s focus is around that, so it’s pretty varied in my case at least.
Yannick: Yeah same thing, I couldn’t answer it better. On my case there is no typical day. To expand on that I think for partner engineers, we have an easy way to structure our time and different people have different formats. There is no sort of box that you put yourself in. Typically a day would start with some meetings with partners.
Flora: In the beginning of the week we figure out the work for the whole week and then towards the end of the week would be doing more maybe internal meetings with product teams to get an idea of where the product is headed, and also do some engineering work for which we usually try to block extended periods of time to not have a lot of context switching. It is again different for different people.
Yannick: I think one point that’s interesting, in which you touched on, is that both solutions and partner engineering is very entrepreneurial. We expect people to set their own agenda, how they will go about their day. If that day client meetings is how you feel you’ll have the most impact, that’s the way to go about it. If this is a day you want to focus on coding that’s another possibility, but it’s up to you to find what is best for your goals.
Jordan: Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. The autonomy that you’re given in this role is probably second to none in a sense. We’ve had another live question: what is the most exciting aspect of working at Facebook on client facing products?
Yannick: One example for me is that two or three months into the role I got called into a meeting set by sales people where we had the full afternoon for a specific client. I had a one hour discussion with them about how to set their technical strategy depending on their goals. I think this is not something you can do every day with the CEO of a company that is thriving in Italy. That was a very unique experience and within three months I was already ready to do that.
Flora: Also the fact that if you are working on building something you straight away meet the people who will use that product. There’s a really short feedback loop that will tell you exactly what’s missing or what could be changed to make that product even more effective. Then it goes out to the thousands eventually, but you do meet those first users face to face, which is pretty exciting.
Yash: Yeah, absolutely. The part where we get to have that level of empathy with businesses it’s also the part which leads to the most amount of success for partner engineers. It’s really understanding the business use case from the partner’s perspective, seeing what’s gonna make them successful, and then really taking a look at our products and saying “hey, does this make you successful or, if not, what else can be better to make you successful?”. On both of those sides there’s a diverging paths where we either proceed to work with our current set of products, help them integrate and get them to launch in closed beta or alpha. Or we would ship a prototype, we build it on stack and then we work with partners across the globe to get them on board.
Jordan: There’s obviously people in the industry called Solutions Engineers or Solutions Architects or some other nomenclature around that in other the companies, but in Facebook the term means something very very different. Yannick, do you want to explain how a solutions engineer at Facebook differs from what an industry solutions engineer might be considered as?
Yannick: This is a role I’ve only held at Facebook but I’ve had conversation with other solutions engineers across the industry. My understanding is that the expectation that we have of still being hands on, still coding and still building products is very unique to Facebook. Flora talked about having the short feedback loop, and it’s where we think we can build value and that’s why we want to keep the team this way.
Flora: What I’ve also experienced, not necessarily with this title but similar titles, is that the fact that it’s client facing is way more direct and in other companies where I’ve been doing similar roles. I’ve had a similar role previously which was also client facing, but in reality most of the time I was communicating with a client working on something especially for the client, but through a Product Manager. At Facebook you are the Product Manager yourself in a sense so you can go and actually meet the even the CEO even of some companies, so it’s very unique to Facebook.
Jordan: I think the only thing that I would add as well is that we don’t build bespoke things for clients in a sense. We look at the problems a client has and the industry has on the back of that and work out if it is worth building a solution for the industry as a whole. In other roles like solutions engineering or architect roles at enterprise companies it’s about tailoring a solution to fit that client’s specific need. And that is exactly not what this job is at Facebook. If anything, it’s the opposite. You’re building new products for new industries on new industry challenges and I think that for me is one of the clearest differences between the two.
Speaking of that, what are the main products or industries that both teams work on? I guess we’ve kind of touched them already but just to clear it out, Yash, what would you say are the main products and industries that your team works on?
Yash In terms of industries we span across all industries because we’re on the platform side. Then, of course, we have sister teams which focus on specific industries. For products I focus on platform products, which is a very generic term, but is comprised of Facebook Identity, Messenger, Spark AR, Portal and the business platform, which includes events, ticketing, movies and so on and so forth. And also Instagram Shopping and Instagram Direct Messaging. That’s a lot of products. From the sister team perspective we have teams which focus on Commerce, essentially experiences which will enable buy and sell relationships on our platform, and that team would typically work with partners at scale to bring those experiences and build those kind of solutions. In the media space they would work with music labels, sports, agencies (FIFA, for example). That’s all on the media side. Of course, big media companies as well, and also news agencies. There’s also gaming partnership and there is also payments. There’s a lot of different industry specific verticals, as I mentioned before, and there’s also this sort of broader developer focused area which is where I focus on, which spans across all the industries, but it’s focused more on product. The end goal is to get to product market fit for the specific variants that we are trying to release.
Flora: [from the Solutions Engineering’s perspective] We tend to focus on the ad side of things. We are helping some of the ads products grow by finding the most relevant beta candidates, for example, but our goal is not to grow a certain product. Our goal is always when we work with a certain advertiser to help them, so it’s not about the products it’s more of us knowing a little bit about each product so that we can recommend the best for the use case.
Jordan: What are the core problems or challenges that your team are trying to solve?
Yannick: It’s a very wide-ranging question. It will depend on which industry we’re working on and what products this advertiser is using. For me, in the automotive industry, it’s about trying to get the most relevant vehicles in front of the relevant person, so that they see the cars they are most likely interested in. But that’s one client and one type of industry. My role in this is usually about helping the clients move forward. The automotive industry is a slow-moving one so I will try to help their tech teams to understand how they can best build value for the marketing team and how they can work together and reach their goals.
Flora: I think one of our main goal is also that Facebook users see very relevant ads so they don’t consider it as spam but actually a useful use of their time. That they get presented that product they never heard about but they are actually interested in.
Yash: For partnerships we’re focused on the developer side to create unique and meaningful experiences. How do we get a partner who isn’t completely integrated with our platform, to use or leverage our platform and then drive growth in their business? Help them and therefore help other future partners to unlock the side of Facebook that really works for people, which is our social network.
Jordan: I would add, from my point of view from the small to medium business space, that creative is such a big problem. With Facebook you have obviously the stories with vertical format, you have the landscape format, you have video, and you have all of these different creative challenges. I think one of the things that the solutions engineering team is really thinking about is how can you simplify and how can you democratize creative in a way that all of these formats and these ways of expressing yourself are available really easily to the biggest advertisers in the world, but also to the smallest advertisers who don’t have a creative department. I think that’s another big pillar that I just wanted to call out for our team.
Jordan: Since we all work on the same customers at the end of the day, and we all work on the sort of same infrastructure, the next question is “what’s the tech stack we most often use?” and I imagine it’s the same for all three of us. Who wants to cover our tech stack?
Yannick: Facebook has a Facebook tech stack. We have reinvented a lot of industry products: we’ve made PHP evolve and use Hack instead, we have our own servers and our own IDEs and database systems, and we invented React. It’s a very Facebook tech stack, but what’s important to note is that we don’t expect anybody to come in and be proficient with our tech stack. We have a very intensive ramp up at the beginning where we get to learn how to use our technologies and we expect anybody who meets our expectations to be, in a way, technology agnostic and be able to operate in any language, and they will be able to learn.
Jordan: You’ve all touched on it in very different ways, but it’s very clear that our teams are very multifaceted roles. We have to wear many hats throughout the day and we have to do many things. Which part of it is your favorite? If you have to pick one thing to call out about the role that’s your favorite, what would it be?
Flora: I think the variety itself. I really enjoy that that my days are different and even within the day sometimes there is a switch between two different hats, from the client-facing work, the technology work, and also maybe recruiting, which I would also account and is a quite different aspect of the role. I quite enjoy being able to do all of these.
Yash: For me, working at Facebook allows me to work with some of the smartest people in the world, and for me that’s a very compelling reason to show up at work every day.
I live at walking distance from the office and I like walking fast. It’s one of those subtle indicators that your your job means more than a job. You’re looking forward to meeting people, you’re looking forward to working with your colleagues. A part of that is the challenging environment when you’re working with so many highly talented people.
Yannick: I think one point that you’re kind of touching on, and that is really core in our team, is the diversity of the team. We are in Europe, in a team of about 30 people and we probably have 10 to 15 nationalities and different backgrounds. On top of that not everybody is sitting in the same office. I’m in Paris, a big part of the team is in London, we have people in Tel Aviv, Dubai, Dublin and Stockholm. That also brings a diversity to the team, and even beyond that the global Sol Eng team. We work with North America pretty frequently, with Asia-Pacific, with Latin America. That also gives us a range of vision that we can’t get in most roles.
Jordan Yeah, I think that’s a great point. Following on from that we have Ping on the line, who is from our Singapore office. He’s currently in EMEA, so we haven’t asked him to stay awake until 1 a.m. Singapore time. Ping, thank you very much for joining us on this live. I want to ask you how often do your teams get to work on global projects and collaborate across different regions. And if you have an example that you could share I’d love to hear about it.
Ping: Sure! For giving you a background, I’m one of the Solutions Engineers and I’m based in Singapore but I cover Singapore and Thailand. Even if I stay in Singapore I have a lot of opportunities to work with our global teams. For example currently I’m working on a product where I have to work with a team in the U.S., so I’m working with them almost every single day. Additionally, not just only building the products because when we build the products, they eventually have to be used globally, so I have to work with many different teams around the world. For example I work with Flora, with Jordan, I ping them to ask for help, I try to give some consultation for the product that I’m proficient in.
Working with different regions is one of the most favorite part of my job. I think it’s very fascinating.
Jordan: Flora, anything you want to add about the cross regional collaboration that we have?
Flora: Yes. I actually worked with Ping on a project, which is a very typical example of a great product that was prototyped by our team. It’s called Collaborative Ads, and it has now been taken over by product team but we are still very much involved. It’s still in beta mode and we are helping onboarding the first clients. I’ve cooperated with Ping on this project quite extensively.
Jordan: Well, just before you go Ping, an impromptu question from me: what is your favorite thing about solutions engineering?
Ping: I think this is very unique role. Like you said, we are in the middle, we are like in-market engineers. We don’t do just coding, but also client-facing. I love to talk with clients and provide consultation and I’m very happy when I see my clients solve their problems.
Jordan: Excellent! Thank you Ping for joining us in this live today and enjoy the rest of your travels here in EMEA.
Ping: Thank you, Jordan!
Jordan: We have another live question. I’m gonna put this to Yash: how do you maintain the balance between what the partners want and the business roadmap?
Yash: That’s a really good question. I would say in some ways both inform each other, but that’s not really the answer. They do inform each other but it is also our job to see how both of them can fit in a way where we can make both business and partners happy at the same time. That’s a really tricky position to be in. A framework that I give people in my team, and that we have as partner engineers, is to really think about it as subproblems and not to focus on the whole business. If you’re working with a partner and let’s say their end goal might be increase their revenue or sale, we want to get more users on board, we want to increase the retention, or customer satisfaction…
We really try to break it down to a sub-problem that fits in nicely with a sub-objective or business goal. That’s where you’ll usually find a match of one to one. Even if you can provide value across something which might seem small, as increasing customer satisfaction, if implemented properly, if measured properly, that is a very powerful to be implementing, prototyping and launching in the ecosystem. Because something as small as increasing customer satisfaction or retention can go a long way in a business’s roadmap. We really try not to think of as “oh we want to solve all your problems” for product or for business. We really try to break it down into smaller problems. It’s a core philosophy.
Jordan: Excellent, excellent. We’ve had another open question: can we recruit in India?. The simple answer is that we hire for Asia-Pacific into Singapore but we do relocate people from all over the world to work in Singapore. Please do check out the careers page for the the Singapore office and see if anything there is what you would be interested into applying for. Then the recruiter or the person you would speak to would be able to talk to you about relocation and how that process would work from India. Just because Facebook doesn’t have a necessarily an engineering office in any country, so not just India, there are many countries where we don’t have engineering offices, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t join Facebook by applying and being relocated. Don’t let that put you off applying.
Yash: In fact, just to add to that, we never consider a candidate’s location as a criteria for anything in the interview process. It’s not something that we would even look at or consider or be like “oh, this person is closer and can onboard quicker” or “this person is further away, it will take time”. That’s never a concern. I am speaking for the cross Facebook not just part of engineering. That’s usually a concern with a lot of other companies but Facebook feels that we invest in people and so we don’t really care about it.
Jordan: In your opinion, what makes a good client facing engineer?, what are the skills you’re looking for in a candidate? We’ve touched on that the team is a mixture of entrepreneurs and people have certain mindsets, so what is it that you guys think you’re looking for and what skills people should have in these types of roles?
Yannick: Clearly you have to start with a passion for the job. You have to want to be facing clients. I know some people are not wanting those kinds of interactions. That’s have to be the core of it. You also have to love coding and be passionate about technology as we all are on the team. And finally I think the skill that is very important is the ability to juggle between those two. These are two very different types of schedules: coding is something that we want to do calmly in the long term, and client interactions can be very fast paced. Being able to juggle your schedule and handle these kinds of contrasts will be very important as well.
Yash: I think that’s a perfect answer and covers my area as well. If I had to choose one quality or skill or something that a person should have to be successful at this job from a client perspective, is empathy. Without a doubt, empathy is number 1, 2, and 3. That’s core to the job. It will break down a lot of walls and a lot of barriers in your way of getting through to the client.
Jordan: Do you guys think that someone from a pure SWE (Software Engineer) background can be successful in these types of roles?
Yannick: There is no limitation on that. If you have a pure SWE background and you’ve only done technical things, which is my case, you can still, if you have the appetite towards it, become a Solution Engineer. If you want to have those client interaction and if it’s something you already can do. If you’re a good communicator, independently of whether it’s been client facing or not, that can be a very good stepping stone to become a Solutions Engineer.
Flora: One important thing is that you could be also “client facing” internally. For example, in one of my previous roles, I was working for an investment bank and I was sitting on the trading floor working very closely with the traders. Even though they were working for the same company they were still speaking a very different language to my teammates who were very tactical. I think that skill is quite important to be able to explain concepts in a non-technical way to non-technical people, and also give their feedback to the product teams.
Jordan: I might have lost people when I said the word SWE. SWE within Facebook means our core software engineering teams. Thus, the question was more aligned with what is the skillset around a core software engineer and would that be someone who would be successful in partner engineering or solutions engineering?. To summarize the answers I think that if you have the passion for working with clients it doesn’t matter if you haven’t done that before. If you can demonstrate that you want to be client facing and you want to communicate and want to work with people to solve real business challenges, that’s enough to be able to get your foot in the door and start that journey.
We have another live question. Along the same lines of skills and software engineer and not software engineering, “how much experience is usually needed to have a chance at joining Facebook? it seems like Facebook is mostly looking for quite experienced people“. What do you guys say to that?
Yannick: Honestly on our team, and I don’t know if it’s been a goal or not, we have hired at a very fairly experienced level, like five to ten years is pretty standard to us. We have hired some new grads, some people fresh out of the university, but we tend to hire more on the more experienced side. That said, we do have the internship program and we have interns that come in which have zero experience at their building experience and some of them get hired. So while we do skew towards more experienced it’s also possible to come with less experience on the team.